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Please, no selfies with the seals: 5 ways to view wildlife responsibly

April 19, 2017
Whale watchers get a glimpse of a humpback.

No matter how many times you’ve watched wildlife on TV nothing compares to seeing whales breach,  seals socialize on the shore or sea turtles swim in the ocean. Marine wildlife viewing is a popular and educational pastime. It’s also big business: Americans spent nearly $1 billion on whale watching alone in 2008.

This #EarthDay, consider these 5 do’s and don’ts for viewing marine life safely and responsibly:
 

1. View from a safe distance (and that differs depending on species and location)

No selfies with seals, please! Here’s an example of what NOT to do when watching wildlife – getting too close and disrupting a seal’s sunbathing.
No selfies with the seals, please! Here’s an example of what NOT to do when watching wildlife – getting too close and disrupting a seal’s sunbathing. (iStock)

Grab your binoculars for a good look. Marine mammals and sea turtles need plenty of space for feeding, resting, breeding and socializing, and shouldn’t be disturbed. Safe viewing distances are typically 300 feet for whales; 150 feet for dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions and sea turtles; and 1,500 feet for all species when viewing from the air. Remember: Don’t do something that could cause an animal to change its behavior.

2. Keep your snacks to yourself

While you may be enticed to feed this face, feeding wild dolphins is harmful to both you and the animal. Begging behaviors shown here are a result of being illegally fed by humans.
While you may be enticed to feed this face, feeding wild dolphins and other marine wildlife is harmful to both you and the animal. Begging behaviors shown here are a result of being illegally fed by humans. (Courtesy of Sarasota Dolphin Research Project)

Many marine mammals are natural hunters, but if they are offered food, they might start relying on handouts. This could lead to dangerous encounters with boat propellers and fishing line, and illness from ingesting human food. Watch this video: “Protecting Dolphins: How to Best View Them​.”

3. Keep pets away from  wildlife

It’s fun to enjoy the beach with your pet. For their safety and the safety of nearby wildlife, please keep them on a leash.
It’s fun to enjoy the beach with your pet. For their safety and the safety of nearby wildlife, please keep them on leashes. (Flickr user SupportPDX/ Creative Commons license)

Seals, sea lions, sea turtles all come ashore to rest and need their space. Adult seals and sea lions are large, strong animals that can act aggressively if they perceive your furry best friend to be a trespasser in their territory. On the flip side, unleashed pets might feel similarly threatened and could attack marine animals resting onshore without mom. Make sure you use a leash with your pets when on a beach with marine life nearby to maintain safe distances and prevent the spread of disease.
 

4. Help us help wildlife in distress

Trained responders with the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute help a stranded dolphin.
Trained responders with the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute help a stranded dolphin. (Courtesy of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute )

Beachgoers, boaters, anglers and wildlife “naturalists” are often the first people to spot marine life in distress. If you see a marine mammal or sea turtle that is stranded — ashore when it shouldn’t be or dead, sick or injured — immediately notify your regional stranding network. Be sure to note your location, accurately describe the scene, and maintain a safe distance from the animal at all times. Do not attempt to touch or move the animal yourself; let professional wildlife rescue teams handle the situation.
 

5. Know before you go

Arm yourself with these resources ahead of your next outdoor adventure: